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February 2012


I thought I was going to be able to get back to you with my tale of really icky basement woe before my family arrived for the week but in retrospect that was not going to happen. House guests and septic system failure do not leave a lot of time for leisurely chats with imaginary friends.

I just typed that and as I did so I heard a phantom Steve saying "It's NOT the septic system" so fine. What happened is this: last March (the last time my family visited, now that you mention it) the, uh, thing that, um, collects, er, waste water, in the basement which is connected to another thing that uses a pump or something to get the er um up to the septic tank failed. It failed and the alarm failed and everything flooded and kept flooding in the most disgusting way possible. We had a restoration company come and clean everything and replace the carpet but we noticed there was a still a bit of a... vaguely unpleasant odor in the far back corner of the basement where the pit thing lives in the electrical closet. We don't use that space, like, ever and we thought maybe it would fade in time but it's been months and it hadn't. So we called a plumber and asked him to look at a few things in the house, among them the thing in the basement. He decided to reseal it and we said okey-dokey and he did and we paid him and he left. And that was that until about six days later when Steve went down to the electrical closet and realized the carpet was squinching beneath his feet.


Further investigation revealed that a clamp had been removed and never replaced so every time the pump thing tried to pump and shift it merely pumped and... sprayed. Erupted, if you will. All over the room and the walls and the doors and

sorry. I should have asked if you were squeamish. You might not have wanted to read that.   

So we had the emergency restoration people out...

hey here's a hint. when you call your homeowner's insurer on a weekend and tell them that your basement is literally swimming with sewage you might get a person who says ok, here's your initial claim number and a claims adjuster will be in touch with you within one business day. they might then end the conversation as if they had been helpful. that is when you call back and say HELLO MY BASEMENT IS SWIMMING IN SEWAGE and the next person to whom you speak will say, oh, so sorry, did you want the number for someone who can come out and deal with the situation today? You will say yes, yes you do

... and our carpet is ripped up again and the drywall's gone and we lost half the stuff in the adjacent storage room and it's annoying beyond words but I suppose it could be worse. We did ask our insurance company (who raised our annual premium... anyone?... SIXTY-SIX PERCENT after our first claim in the Spring. bastards) to work with the plumber's commercial insurer and he's been very reasonable about it so we're relieved. These things happen but hopefully we will get our deductible back and they won't raise our rates again.

Still under the category of Eruptions Comma Noxious my mom noticed that Edward seemed to be uncomfortable at more or less the same time that I tracked the off smell that I thought might be feet to Edward's ear. His ear, I mean to say, smelled like feet. I took him to the pediatrician/walk-in and we were fourth in line to be seen until Edward started rolling around on the ground clawing at his head and keening at the exact moment his pediatrician's medical assistant opened the door to call someone else. She put us in a room and our pediatrician walked by the open door and veered sou'southeast to get to Edward immediately. His timing was impeccable. Edward's ear drum ruptured in several moments of blinding pain and the diagnosis couldn't have been simpler. Edward felt much better but his ear (his ear!) oozed foul whitish brownish greenish pus for four days until the drops and the amoxillian kicked in.

Whoops. Squeamish again? Sorry.

Now that Edward is feeling better he is much less psychopathic, which makes all of us feel better. He is really very lovable and charming when he isn't crazy. He has his cuddly (cudyee) things that he likes to carry around. The collection started as two small blankies but has grown to include one small brown cat named Purr, a blanket Patrick made for him out of a car patterned flannel and two transformer cars. Purr talks in a sweet, high voice and says please and thank you a lot. I like that cat. The transformers talk in low gravelly voices and keep threatening to destroy my village. They make me nervous. Edward continues to be the go-to twin for all imaginary play, although Caroline does have an imaginary little sister named Assidy (Assity?) Assidy is five and goes to kindergarten and has a dog and a mother named Julin. Like Patrick's Sassy (who was a 153 year old cat) Assidy (I think the name similarity is a coincidence since Sassy had left us long before the twins were sentient) seems to exist simply to give Caroline a foothold in conversations for which her limited life experience would otherwise render her ineligible. If we mention a friend in Africa, for example, Caroline volunteers that Assidy also has a friend in Africa. Who rides a giraffe. 

Edward asks a lot of questions. Why? Why are we having chicken? Why are we reading this book? Why is that Arkansas? "Um" doesn't work as an answer but I have discovered that "Because it is not Louisiana" suits him just fine. And it's true, too.

Caroline is much more pointed. The other day she asked (again) for a dog while she, Patrick and I were in the car. Patrick the cat lover said, "We can't get a dog because it would chase Jamy and Darwin and Kelvin."

Caroline said, "Mommy, would a dog scare the cats?"

And I said, "Yes. Yes it would."

She thought for a moment and then asked, "Mommy, do cats die?"

I thought oh GOOD LORD and said, "Ummmmmmmmm sometimes" which caused Patrick to laugh and say "Sometimes? Cats sometimes die? And the rest of the time they live forever?"

Caroline stuck to the point, "So if our cats sometimes died I could get a puppy like Assidy?"

My mom says if we discover the front door ajar and cans of tuna leading a trail to the woods we can be pretty sure we know who the culprit is.

Question for you. A true discussion question about which reasonable people can disagree so... about sex. I read somewhere that parents should start to discuss sex with their children around... I don't remember. Eight maybe? Or ten? Elementary school, certainly, and I thought hmmm glad I don't ever have to worry about that ever ever and then Patrick and I were listening to one of the Tiffany Aching books (someone here gave me a very timely heads up on some of the mature themes in the last one, thank you. we haven't gotten there yet but I will read it first) and the subject of sex came up. Not in any particularly lascivious way, more in an older character asking a younger character if they needed The Sex Talk way. I looked at Patrick and he blinked at me and I found myself pausing the book and saying, "Do you, ah, know what they are talking about?"

Patrick said, "Oh yeah of course."

And just as I was trying to decide what to say next he said, "Book, please!" and I let it go. Until right now.

So at what age does one start talking about the whats and the wherefores of sex? Patrick has thus far been very sheltered in that he is completely disinterested in mainstream culture (his tastes are on par with those of an elderly Oxford don) but this new class of his has certainly expanded his horizons. There are some zippy kids in there. Anyway if you think fourth or fifth grade is about right (hey, two part essay question) any good books to recommend either for him or me? We're book people. Nothing like a nice straight-forward non-awkward unembarrassing book to get things started, right? 

Or not?       

H. V. D.

Happy Valentine's Day

from Patrick


from Caroline and Edward




xoxo from Sump Vesuvius (no. don't ask. really.)

Secret Squirrel

I don't carry my camera around all the time so sometimes I cheat. I see something and think ooooh I want a picture of that and then I stage a photograph to recreate whatever it was that I wanted to capture in the first place.

Like these two photos. I walked into the closet yesterday to get socks (I have chilblains again on two toes - what is up with that?) and noticed something glinting in the laundry hamper. Was that a... ?



It was.

It was a camera lens poking out of my laundry hamper because Edward - for mysterious reasons of his own - was hiding in there furtively photographing things with Patrick's camera. Weird? Sure. Hilarious? Definitely. I now know what it feels like to be relentless stalked by the press but I'll bet even Cleopatra never had paparazzi hiding in her laundry basket. Of course she probably kept asps in there.

Anyway I was sorry to lose this moment so I asked him to get back into the hamper while I went to get my camera. He obliged. We repeated. Now it's like we were all there together. Hooray.

Oh and here is one of the shots from his photo expose


You can see Caroline's arm as she approaches stage right; which means Edward's skulking paid off as he nailed rush hour in my closet by managing to photograph a staggering two (2) people. I didn't realize the camera had a fish eye setting but it must and Edward activated it by stabbing at all the buttons. I really like the effect. I mean, if you were hiding in a laundry basket taking photographs wouldn't you want them to look all bulgy and distorted like that? Me too.

Here's another posed photo. Caroline and Edward were sick most of last week. Correction: Edward was sick (all high fevers and listless apathy and gacking) and Caroline was "sick" by which I mean she realized that she was on her way to preschool while Edward would be staying home with the library books and a warm TV she said, "Cough."

And I said, "Oh please" and she said, "No really. Cough. Cough cough cough."

The thing about being a twin is there is always the possibility that your mother might conclude it really is not worth the effort to send just one of you to preschool, especially when she hasn't packed lunches and she hates to pack lunches.

She stayed home with her cough.

So they were both sick to varying degrees and I took this picture to commemorate the pathos of it all.


Good, right? Sad and waiflike and brimming with invalidism? Well in truth this is a retake because when I first approached the couch with a camera they did this


Do you know what that is? That is a picture of at least one child who should have gone to freaking preschool that day, that's what.

Patrick and I are on book three of the....

wait! Books. Very important.

You may recall that one of my readers, Katelyn Sinclair, has written a book called "The Golden Ball" (available through her website or here at Amazon) which Kirkus Review described as "playful poetry that begs to be read aloud." I hosted a book giveaway, some of you received copies, we all faithfully swore to report back for... oh heavens what did they call them? workshop. that's it. awful word... we promised to constructively criticize and now the time has come to do so. If you received her book or have read it through other channels I would really appreciate it if you would leave a comment here about what you liked and what you think could use some tweaking. thank you...

So Patrick and I are on book three of Terry Pratchett's Tiffany Aching books (starts with Wee Free Men) and we are enjoying them beyond measure. The other day Patrick said, "Who're ye callin' a banana ye scunner?" and I fell over laughing. God it was funny.

Huh. I read that over and maybe you had to be there but it really was very funny and we're now conversant in Discworld and the books are excellent and I thank you - emphatically - for the recommendation.

Coincidentally I have just recently become obsessed with the ancestry dot com website and the Mac Nac Feegles are tying in beautifully with the line I am poking at which extends back beyond forever in Scotland (minus the hundred years or so in Ireland - damn Cromwell) so we are all about the knowing of the Scots right noo. I have never mentioned this before because I am rightly ashamed of it - but genealogy is a secret passion of mine.

When I was 14 - and this is true - I used to take the subway downtown and pay my $4 guest fee to use the library at the D.A.R.

I was easily the youngest person in there by about 70 years and my fellow genealogists were fascinated by me. Or maybe they wanted to drink my blood. I don't know.

I will never forget when one brittle and no doubt well-intentioned but seriously icky woman asked if I attended college. I said no, I was still in high school. She asked what school and I named the DC public edifice of middling learning that had the honor to claim me as one of their own.

She paused.

She blinked.

She said, "But aren't there black students there?"

Seeing as how my high school was over 85% African-American and WHAT THE FUCK LADY I said why yes, yes there are.

She said, "But honey, don't you mind?"

The DAR, ladies and gentlemen, purposefully narrowing their horizons since the flood. Good LORD. I thought at the time and I am thinking it now just... GOOD LORD. 

Where was I? Oh yes. I was confessing the fact that I am fascinated by begats even though I know, I KNOW, it is the single most boring subject anywhere, ever. No one is interested in your family history. Absolutely no one. Even other genealogy squabs don't care about your finds and it is rare for two of us to exist within one family so even the person who really should care, and say, oh DO go on Julia, you know, my brother, does not. 

He was bored by it when we were teenagers and he continues to be bored by it today. Which is odd because he is the one who stands to benefit the most, being all male and older than me, should I discover our claim to an ancient Peruvian title plus castle plus 800 goats due upon demand. But he just makes a kind of uhhhmmmmming noise when I mention the first school teacher/veterinarian in Tennessee or the Cherokee Nation or the Battle of Dunaverty and if I persist in hypothesizing about a maternal line while he's driving I can hear him slamming his head against the windshield and pouring hot coffee on his lap in an effort to stay awake. So I know, it's boring. 

But my grandmother liked genealogy and she told great stories and I remember being really really little and hanging on her every word as she talked about her family and who did what when and I love looking at these names and dates and thinking oh yes, her and him and that one. There's the story about how my grandmother's mother died (oh I know I've already told you this one. just imagine how many times Steve's heard it) from influenza when my grandmother was a toddler and how her father was left to raise five children. Being a practical although perhaps not very romantic man he waited a few months and then marched next door to where a spinster named Willie kept house for her brothers.

(Willie was unmarried, my grandmother explained, because she had had a horseback riding accident and, well.... was believed to be barren. Crivens)

"Willie," said my great-grandfather, "I feel sorry for you."

And she said, "Why Mr. N, whatever do you mean?"

(they were in Alabama so feel free to go really lavish on the accents. I do)

And he said, "I feel sorry for you because you are going to have to marry me and raise my children."

Sigh. And she did. And had five more children in the process, so go figure.

Anyway I love that story and just the other day I was bumbling around on the ancestry site and found that somone had posted a picture of Willie. I had never seen one before and I was all a'flutter. I mean, there she was. Amazing.

Oh oh OH! Or the fact that both of my grandmother's grandfathers fought together in the Civil War. There were lots of stories about them but my favorite was the one that hinted that one of them deserted when his son was born but returned to his regiment six months later. It was all terribly romantic in a war is stupid and they should have all been farming sort of way but I thought about it as I was looking at records this week and sure enough, there he was. Present, injured, present, awol, and then... back again.

Wow. I seriously have no idea why I brought this up. How funny. I am even more boring on the subject that I realized. Once I get started it is impossible to get me to stop. At least when I am writing I am able to look up and find out where I started. Poor Steve just goes glassy-eyed and waits for me to trail off indefinitely.

Right. Scots. Mac Nac Feegles. Tiffany Aching. Good books, thinking about starting the Bartimaeus trilogy next. Will advise.

And apropos of nothing, Patrick drew this comic and I find it delightfully subversive. I don't know why it posted sideways. Sorry about that. Enjoy your weekends - we have a sitter tonight and I asked her to come at four in the afternoon. Not because we have anything to do but the idea of missing the entire pre dinner, dinner, post dinner was too lovely to miss.

PS So, and I am asking this in the whisper of one tentatively seeking out fellow deviants, do you, um, ever check out the censusii of 1850 and 1860? Does the word tree convey anything thrilling to you? I mean, socially, of course. Take it or leave it. Quit any time you like.

PPS I fixed the link to Patrick's comic.